1. Opinion

Teen arts program gets new start

Rashed Guess Sr. and his wife, Porchia Guess, bring their kids, from left, Rashed Jr., 7; Csiaire, 1; and Adeyla, 8, to the kick off of the SMART Kids program at Melrose Elementary on Friday.
Published Aug. 16, 2013

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about changes — including key departures — at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast housed at the Royal Theater in Midtown.

The facility was home to the Senior Conservatory, which had been popular among teens interested in the arts. The program featured classes in drama, dance, music development, graphic arts and recording arts production. But that program was nixed when the Juvenile Welfare Board opted to only fund programs targeting children under 14 years old.

In the ensuing months, participation at the center averaged 40 students per day, mostly attending after-school tutoring programs.

When only 10 students signed up for the summer program, the club was forced to close — sending those kids to the Jamestown site at 1035 Burlington Ave. N.

On Monday, the facility will reopen with a new strategy to reach at-risk children.

Part of that strategy will include a joint effort in launching the SMART Kids (Skills Mastery and Resistance Training) program at Melrose Elementary. The program targets children from 6 to 9. The year-round program encourages collaboration among the club's staff, youth, parents and representatives from other community organizations.

On Friday, club officials held a giveaway to help encourage parental participation.

There's a plan in place by Boys & Girls Clubs officials there that could bode well for participants and local art organizations.

"At the facility itself, we're trying to work with community art organizations," said Dale L. Kleine, project/strategic initiatives manager for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Suncoast.

She also stressed they will continue programs for younger kids who want to focus on the arts.

Normal hours will resume Monday, including after-school homework help and tutoring

• • •

Meanwhile, there's good news on the Senior Conservatory program.

Since departing the Royal Theater, the program has also changed its name. It is now ACT — Arts Conservatory for Teens — a collaborative effort with the city and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Since making the move to the former Dalí Museum site — now called Harbor Hall — the program has experienced considerable growth. This term, 200 students are expected.

The first Teen Arts Culture and Career Festival, a daylong event, is Sept. 20 at USF St. Petersburg. The goal is to use the arts festival platform to promote higher education.

It is a collaboration between the city, Pinellas County School District, USF St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg College, St. Pete Young Professionals and other community arts groups.

"There hasn't been a festival like this in the area — so we're pretty excited about it," said Alex Harris, director of the ACT program at USF St. Pete.

Organizers say the event's unique approach targets students throughout Pinellas County and uses the arts platform to promote higher education.

They're still working out the details, but basically, the goal is to offer opportunities for first-generation students to go to college and to increase college enrollment among students in the community.

The event will include symposiums and break-out sessions in the morning, while the afternoon session will feature community leaders, entertainment and games.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at or at (727) 893-8874 and on Twitter at @StPeteSandi.


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